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A 45-year-old Kansas mayor needs a pacemaker after a long-haul covid fight: ‘I thought I was going to beat it’

Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla (D) addresses the crowd during a 2020 campaign stop. De La Isla, who tested positive for the coronavirus in January, will have a pacemaker implanted next week after the virus damaged her heart. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
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Michelle De La Isla describes herself as one of the healthiest people she knows. She is a biker and runner, so when she caught the coronavirus in January, the Topeka, Kan., mayor said she expected a speedy recovery.

Eight months and three hospitalizations later, the 45-year-old mom of three — who ran for Congress in 2020 — says she will have a pacemaker implanted next week to fix heart damage inflicted by the virus. De La Isla is one of millions thought to be suffering from long-haul covid, a lingering condition that leaves some facing heart palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue, joint pain and other health problems months after their initial illness.

“Covid is no joke,” De La Isla, a Democrat who has served as mayor since 2018, said during a Topeka City Council meeting on Tuesday. “On Monday, I’m going to have a pretty big procedure. This post-covid has been extremely difficult and it has impacted my heart, so I am going to have a bionic heart starting on Monday with a new pacemaker.”

Four studies published this year show as many as a third of coronavirus cases result in long-haul covid. Some of those cases followed mild infections, according to the University of California at Davis.

Research in England released in June found as many as 2 million people living there were experiencing long-haul symptoms, The Washington Post reported.

Some people experience “long covid” months after their battle with covid-19. While cures remain unknown, there are some practical steps you can take. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

‘Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll start to feel better.’ Kaitlin Denis, on approaching Year Two of living with covid-19

De La Isla, who lost the race to represent her state’s 2nd Congressional District to Republican Rep. Jake LaTurner, told KWCH that she did not expect to be experiencing serious health problems months after getting the virus.

“With all the work that I’ve done to remain healthy … I thought I was going to beat it,” she told the station. The mayor could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday night.

During Tuesday’s meeting, De La Isla encouraged members of her community to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. As with much of the country, Kansas has seen daily coronavirus case counts and deaths spike as the highly contagious delta variant spreads rapidly.

Hospitalizations in Kansas rose nearly 25 percent over the past week, according to The Post’s coronavirus tracker. Deaths are up more than 66 percent in that time.

According to The Post’s tracker, 46 percent of Kansans have been fully vaccinated, which is slightly lower than the national average of 50 percent.

“I am a huge advocate for those who choose to get the vaccine,” De La Isla said Tuesday.

De La Isla tested positive for the virus in January after receiving her first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, KWCH reported. She was eligible to get the shot at the beginning of the year because of her position in government.

The mayor has since spent nearly two weeks in the hospital during three stays. Getting the pacemaker will be her second surgery tied to the coronavirus, she told KWCH, after having her gallbladder removed when the illness attacked her digestive system.

De La Isla told the station she has tried to get back to her exercise routine, but “in the last month or two, things have gotten more complicated.” That led to discussions with her doctor about implanting a pacemaker, which can sense an irregular heartbeat. The small devices can restore a patient’s heart rate to the regular pace.

Viruses can trigger inflammation of the heart and, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the organ is a target in covid-19 infections.

De La Isla, who is not running for another term in the November election, said she shared the news of her pacemaker to be transparent with community members.

“On Monday, this is all going to be fixed and then you’re going to have to put up with me,” she told Topeka’s City Council members.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Where do things stand? See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people.

The state of public health: Conservative and libertarian forces have defanged much of the nation’s public health system through legislation and litigation as the world staggers into the fourth year of covid.

Grief and the pandemic: A Washington Post reporter covered the coronavirus — and then endured the death of her mother from covid-19. She offers a window into grief and resilience.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

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